ENCROCHAT: NCA surveillance shots of Merseyside gang who shifted gear over Scottish border
A LIVERPOOL EncroChat crime gang used lorries to transport drugs and chemicals to produce them between northern England and Scotland.
Details emerged during the prosecution of four members of the organised crime group that ran an industrial scale amphetamine lab in Scotland, and trafficked heroin and cocaine.
A National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation dismantled the Merseyside-based group run by kingpin Terence Earle, 49, (top left and below right) from St Helens.
Earle used the encrypted communications platform EncroChat to organise his criminality and enlisted the help of subordinates Stanley Feerick, 68, (below driving) and Stephen Singleton, 36, from Liverpool, and Stephen King, 49, from Dumbarton, Scotland.
In December 2020 Lancashire Police, acting on NCA intelligence, seized more than 560 kilos of alpha-phenylacetoacetamide (APAA) - a chemical used in the production of amphetamine - from the group, which Singleton had supplied. This would have been capable of producing around £1.1m worth of amphetamine at the lab in Scotland.
The substance was found in a lorry which had been loaded from a warehouse on an industrial estate near a caravan park in Weeton, Lancashire, on the orders of Feerick.
The previous month, at the request of the NCA, Feerick had been arrested by Lancashire Police as he drove a lorry southbound on the M6 motorway. Officers discovered a holdall containing 2.9 kilos of heroin worth £300,000, and £20,000 in cash.
L-R Terrence Earle, Stephen Singleton, Lee Baxter Stephen King
A search of Feerick’s home led to the recovery of another £9,370 in cash.
NCA inquiries found that Earle had also used EncroChat to oversee the trafficking of heroin and cocaine from Scotland to Merseyside, and in the opposite direction, with the assistance of Lee Baxter, 48, of Huyton, Liverpool.
All of the group members were arrested by the NCA in March 2021.
Earle and Baxter pleaded guilty at Liverpool Crown Court on 3 October last year, with Feerick changing his plea to guilty on the day he was due to stand trial. King was convicted by a jury on 15 December, following an eight-day trial. Singleton pleaded guilty on 9 February this year.
At the same court on April 18, Earle was sentenced to 16-and-a-half years imprisonment, Singleton to three years and four months, Baxter to 22 months (suspended for 18 months) and King to 18 months (suspended for 18 months).
Feerick is due to be sentenced on May 3.
The NCA’s investigation formed part of Operation Venetic, the UK NCA-led law enforcement response to the takedown of the EncroChat service by French and Dutch police in July 2020.
It was supported by the Scottish Organised Crime Partnership (OCP) – a joint NCA and Police Scotland unit – and the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce.
NCA Branch Commander Richie Davies said: “This crime group posed a serious threat to communities across Scotland and Merseyside.
“They were intent on profiting from producing and supplying illegal drugs on a large scale, despite knowing the danger those drugs posed to users and others affected by the violence and exploitation fuelled by the trade.
“They tried to conceal their unlawful activities but the NCA’s investigation, supported by our partners in Scotland and Lancashire Police, has dismantled their criminal group. Today’s sentencing demonstrates the importance of the NCA’s work to protect the public from the highest risk criminals impacting on the UK.”
Some EncroChat defendants are still challenging the admissibility of the EncroChat evidence amid claims it was a live intercept, not allowed in UK courts, and the NCA used the wrong type of warrant to obtain it.
A number of crown court trials have been severely delayed as a result.
A separate challenge to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal has also been severely delayed.
The case was heard late last year with a verdict expected in January.
It is now not clear when that verdict will come.